TORONTO — “Reconciliation is dead. It’s dead in this province.”
That was First Nations NDP MPP Sol Mamakwa’s message for the Ontario government after police arrested protesters at a blockade in Mohawk territory and the Progressive Conservatives introduced the singing of “God Save the Queen” in the legislature.
Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) arrested several demonstrators Monday morning at a rail blockade in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory just outside Belleville, Ont. The blockade was put up in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs in British Columbia who are resisting a natural gas pipeline on their traditional territory.
Mamakwa, who is a member of the Kingfisher First Nation, said police should have waited for demonstrators to take their blockade down voluntarily as progress was made in B.C.
“This is a very complex issue … We need to have dialogue,” he said.
But Ontario Indigenous Affairs Minister Greg Rickford said there was nothing more police could do.
“I think we went as far as we possibly could,” he told reporters. “To the credit of the Ontario Provincial Police, our men and women in blue worked very closely with the activists, had direct communication.”
The response “protected and respected” the recommendations made in the Ipperwash Inquiry, Rickford said. That inquiry was ordered after police killed a First Nations man named Dudley George in Ipperwash Provincial Park in 1995.
“Ontario turned the page on that today,” Rickford said.
Mamakwa said that isn’t true.
“I would disagree with that fully,” he said. “I seen the video this morning ... the police actually threw the first punch.”
Mamakwa told HuffPost Canada he was talking about a live video posted by the Real Peoples Media Facebook page that shows protesters facing off with police officers.
With about 20 officers behind them, two OPP officers tell the protesters to leave or face arrest.
“We’ve heard that before,” a protester can be heard saying. “We don’t give a fuck about what you want to say.”
“You leave. All of you … You’re on sovereign territory. Every single one of you … What don’t you understand? Your ancestors came here sick, tired and oppressed. Your ancestors came here wanting a better place. And our ancestors took care of them, taught them how to live, let them live on their land.”
Officers can be seen in the video moving toward the demonstrators and grabbing them.
Mamakwa said the demonstration in Tyendinaga was about more than just the situation in Wet’suwet’en territory. He said he visited the Mohawk people there about 10 days ago.
“They’re standing in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en nation but also … were standing up for First Nations across Canada, for people that don’t have access to clean drinking water, for example.”
He said he’s tried to get action from Premier Doug Ford’s government on clean water and youth suicide to no avail.
“They don’t want to respond to anything on reserves.”
By shifting blame to each other, provincial and federal governments “play jurisdictional ping pong” with the “lives and health” of First Nations people, he said.
In his riding of Kiiwetinoong, a 24-year-old woman recently died by suicide on Neskantaga First Nation, a community that has been under a boil water advisory for 25 years, Mamakwa said.
“In her whole life, she never had access to clean drinking water. That’s the issue for me … That’s why I say reconciliation is dead and it’s not working.”
He also took issue with a new rule in the Ontario legislature that will see MPPs sing “God Save the Queen” on the first Monday of each month.
“It’s hurtful,” he said. “It’s a step backwards.”